Dec 08, 2021

CUPE members step up during flood disaster

BURNABY—It’s not unusual for CUPE municipal members throughout B.C. to work day and night to keep communities safe. Following heavy rains, CUPE members on the Island are out making sure that debris is removed from catch basins and that streams remain clear and flowing. In Whistler/Pemberton, the recent challenge of more than 100 millimetres of rainfall kept crews busy dealing with heavy water seepage and nuisance flooding.

But in the wake of B.C.’s latest extreme weather event CUPE members in the Fraser Valley were literally on the front lines of disaster response following three atmospheric rivers that swept the area with a deluge.

Members of CUPE 744 and CUPE 458 protected their communities when the Barrowtown pump station, maintained by the cities of Abbotsford and Chilliwack, was threatened by flood waters flowing north from the Nooksack River across the Sumas Prairie. More than 150 city staff, volunteers and farmers built a 25-metre-long sandbag wall overnight during the record rainstorm that hit the region hard. A failure at the station would have been catastrophic for the entire Fraser Valley.

“Our CUPE BC family is so proud of the amazing CUPE members in the Valley and those from multiple locals throughout B.C. who stepped up, going above and beyond to take care of each other and their communities,” said CUPE BC President Karen Ranalletta. “The heroic efforts of CUPE members—ambulance paramedics, emergency dispatchers, and municipal workers in particular—kept people safe during this disaster.”

CUPE 458 represents members in seven units in six municipalities and regions. President Darlene Worthylake said it was amazing to see the goodwill and desire of CUPE members to be a part of something bigger than themselves in the effort to help others. The Local put out a call to “host or be hosted" for those who lived in other communities and either couldn’t get to work or needed a place to stay.

In Yarrow, members went door to door with police and fire fighters to assist in the evacuation effort. In Hope, more than 500 people were put up in the secondary school gymnasium. Members were dealing with the pandemic at the same time as the flooding – they had to shift people from the gym to classrooms and back again after disinfecting the bleachers by hand.

Worthylake had the opportunity to see the flooding and damage firsthand with Chilliwack's deputy director of operations, who generously shared the City’s photos with CUPE (see photo gallery). Worthylake said that workers in Chilliwack worked all night doing whatever needed to be done, including helping people cope with road closures. “I view our members and this community as my people, a community who became a family,” said Worthylake.

CUPE BC’s Executive Board established a Disaster Relief Fund to support CUPE members impacted by the recent catastrophic floods and mudslides. “In light of the terrible impact of the recent flooding and mudslides, the executive board has decided to convert the remaining funds [from the summer’s wildfire relief initiative] to a Disaster Relief Fund to help any CUPE members who need financial assistance to make it through this situation.”

To expedite funds to members in need, all applications must be submitted to CUPE BC directly through CUPE Locals or District Councils, not individually. Using the hardship fund application, locals and district councils can apply on behalf of individual CUPE members.

Now that the immediate danger is past and communities are dealing with clean-up and rebuilding, CUPE members are also now dealing with damage to their own homes and properties. Worthylake noted that many people don’t realize that while municipal workers kept working to protect their communities, they were not able to deal with the fallout of the flooding at their own homes.

“CUPE members give of themselves wholeheartedly,” said Worthylake. “This time they gave of themselves while making sacrifices of their own. For our members, their work is more than a job.”

View the CUPE BC gallery for photos.

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